Winner: Lanto Griffin
It had been a long time since Lanto Griffin cried like that. Griffin holed that last six-footer, and then he slumped, his head bending into his caddie’s shoulder. Then he sank into a crouch and sobbed. He had just won the Houston Open, his first victory on the PGA Tour. The tears were of joy, but also for years of struggle and doubt, the loneliness he still felt from the death of his father. “To all those back home,” he said, finally, into the camera. “We did it.”
Generally, a golfer about to score his first win is ravaged by nerves. Griffin, 31, was just the opposite. “I was actually eerily calm — I don’t know why,” he said. Griffin had won on the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. But this was golf ’s ultimate, the PGA Tour, and the treasure it offered — the precious playing card. And so Griffin stepped right up and knocked in that six-footer.
The chase was on from the start across the Golf Club of Houston. He opened two behind with a six-under 66, but took a 74 in the rain-interrupted second round, hurt especially by the double bogey at the disagreeable par-four 18th. But he rebounded with a spirited 65 in the third — three quick birdies from No. 3, then six across eight holes from the 10th. But also a bogey at the 18th. But he had his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. At 11 under, he was a stroke ahead of playing partner Mark Hubbard and three up on Scott Harrington.
And the final round was a shootout. Harrington shot a 67 that included birdies on five of 11 holes from No. 3. Hubbard eagled No. 4 and birdied Nos. 7 and 8 and had the lead till he bogeyed 15. He shot 69 and tied Harrington for second at 275, 13 under. Griffin birdied the first and third from close and three-putted from 50 feet for a bogey at No. 4. He made the turn in three under with birdies at No. 5, from three feet, and at the par-five eighth after missing the fairway.
Griffin missed the green at 11 and bogeyed, slipped behind Hubbard. Then, still in his calm world, he birdied 16 from 33 feet for the lead and arrived at his nemesis, the 18th. Leading by one, he put his second on the green, 60 feet from the flag, and finally holed a six-footer for his par, a 69, and a 14-under 274. And his first win.
And as he cried on his caddie’s shoulder on winning, so had he cried on Steve Prater, then the pro at Blacksburg when his dad died young of cancer. Griffin was just 12 then and a kid from a family with little means. Prater became a second father to him. “I wouldn’t be here without him,” Griffin said. “He opened every door in golf that I ever had.” And he thanked others who helped him. Said Griffin: “I always felt like I owed them everything I had…”